Kelly Thomson FR'96

This year’s recipient of the SYA Distinguished Alumni award is Kelly Thomson FR'96.

Kelly Thomson FR’96 is a film producer whose work primarily examines inequity and social transformation through the lens of science, religion and lived experience.

Kelly attended SYA France as a junior from Medfield High School (Mass.). She truly flourished in her year in Rennes, and it excited her sense of adventure and travel. After a year at UC Santa Cruz, she decided to take some time off during which she spent three months living with a family in a small town in Senegal; then she worked on a feature film with her older sister (a producer) in England. A religious studies major, Kelly continued her education at NYU and spent the second semester of her junior year at the University of Dakar in Senegal.

After college, Kelly produced the independent documentary Savage Memory, with fellow SYA alum and classmate Zachary Stuart FR'96 about his great-grandfather, the founding father of British anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski. Ty Burr, Boston Globe critic said, “As a study of how the spirits of the dead walk with us in life, Savage Memory strikes interesting parallels between the islanders and us.”   

Later, Kelly went to work for Vital Pictures in Boston where she began to partner with director Llewellyn Smith. Together they have made eight documentaries for PBS, including Poisoned Water, about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. American Denial uses Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 investigation of Jim Crow racism and the so-called 'American Creed' to explore the unconscious bias and structural racism that persist in America today. Their most recent film for NOVA, Computers vs. Crime, explores the use of AI in our police departments and courts, and the inherent biases that are built into AI systems. Together with Llew, she has been awarded the Kavli Science Journalism Award, a duPont-Columbia Award and has been nominated for Emmys twice.    

Their current project is a feature documentary for HBO based on NY Times writer Charles Blow’s book, The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, encouraging African-Americans to return to the South to create a Black political power base.  

Kelly and her collaborators inspire their audiences by asking hard questions, most with no easy answers. In her own way, she feels the films she makes bring storytelling, accessibility and exposure to important social issues that deserve our attention.


  • You can stream American Denial on the Kanopy app. Check to see if you can access with your public libary account, or if you're a teacher or student at the college level, see if your school has access. Learn more
  • Learn more about Computers v. Crime here 


SYA Awards Committee
Darcy McLean ES'01, Chair 

Donald Austin FR'01-07RD, Head of Newark Academy
Annabelle Brown Fowlkes FR'90 FR'22P
Julian Fu CN'06
Brittany Toscano Gore IT'02
Nahin Jorgge IT'06
Peter Kirby FR'79
Holland Goss Lynch FR'86

Join us for Founder's Day Town Hall to meet Kelly
Wednesday, September 27 at 3 p.m. EDT